The move follows a snap audit conducted recently of all the people on respiratory support and all those in intensive care with COVID-19 in Northern Ireland.
Dr Martin Kelly, Respiratory Consultant at Altnagelvin Hospital, said: “People who are overweight are at substantially more risk of being very sick, requiring intensive care or dying from COVID, and yet large numbers of patients in this situation come to us with COVID, and have not been vaccinated.
“Our recent audit, and experience to date, indicates that up to 40 percent of our intensive care patients are very overweight, with a BMI greater than 35. Although people in this BMI range represent only a small section of the overall community in Northern Ireland, the impact on ICU beds is considerable. The vast majority of those people that we see in ICU have not had vaccines and are at greatly increased risk of death.”
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Over the past 18 months, say health officials, respiratory nurses and doctors have been looking after thousands of patients with COVID-19, many of which have had frightening experiences with severe breathlessness. They have also witnessed many hundreds of deaths in what has been a physically and mentally demanding time for them all.
Continuing Dr Kelly said: “We are used to looking after sick people, but we have seen many deaths, often deaths of people who are unable to be with their families, something we have never witnessed before, which is deeply upsetting. And with the winter now coming, we expect more tragic stories.
“In recent months we have also seen deaths which are avoidable, which generates a new level of frustration in the respiratory teams and in many of those cases, the patients are also frustrated, realising too late that they are on the wrong side of an argument at exactly the point when learning is futile and often too late.”
Dr Kelly also stressed that although he and his colleagues were aware of reported minor side-effects with the COVID-19 vaccine, severe side-effects were so rare that respiratory teams who have literally witnessed hundreds of deaths due to COVID have seen no patients with severe side-effects from the vaccine.